Synod 2022 affirmed that the Heidelberg Catechism’s definition of unchastity includes homosexual sex and declared that “this interpretation has confessional status.” The vote had a 69% majority. However, synod declined to add a footnote to the Heidelberg Catechism to clarify the interpretation.
This followed a previous decision to uphold the CRC’s traditional stance that homosexual sex is not consistent with biblical teaching.
During deliberation, many acknowledged that declaring confessional status would have serious, far-reaching implications for the Christian Reformed Church, since all officebearers and faculty at church-owned schools could be subject to church discipline if they preach or teach contrary to the confessions.
“There might be one-third of the people in this room who would be subject to special discipline if this passes,” said Anthony Elenbaas, Classis Hamilton. “Those of us who are in the minority in this place will have a much harder job to do. Please don’t put the walls up any higher. Please allow room for us.”
“This ties the hands of the denomination in a significant way,” said Larry Louters, Classis Grand Rapids East. Louters is council president at Neland Avenue Church, which has been called out by the CRC Council of Delegates for installing an deacon who is in a same-sex relationship. Louters is also a chemistry professor at Calvin University. “A whole host of people will be affected and their future work in the CRC will be nullified.”
“Since 1973, there have been officebearers who disagree with (the church’s stance that homosexual practice is a sin),” said Michael LeRoy, outgoing president of Calvin University. “For officebearers who have written or spoken in opposition to this, there would be cause for church discipline. Consider the implication for officers of the church.”
“We will make a decision here, and then we will turn to the church order to guide us in those next steps,” responded Doug Fakkema, reporter for the advisory committee that recommended confessional status.
“I speak in favor, even though I know that this will probably tear us apart,” said Robert Van Zanen, Classis Thornapple Valley. “I grew up at Neland, so I know the deep personal implications. … It is hard to make this decision, and it sucks, and yet we have to make it because we have to stand up for the gospel. We have to recognize truth even as we recognize grace, and these have to be held hand in hand. They can’t be separated.”
“This has been a position that has been in our denomination for almost 50 years,” said Chris Cassis, Classis Southeast U.S. “We are coming in line with what we’ve already said.”
“The word unchastity in our confessions has to have meaning,” said Craig Hoekema, Classis Eastern Canada. “I understand the implications of this. I don’t delight in that, but I believe we need to stand.”
Emotions ran high during the deliberation. “When God provides a partner for lifelong service, that is not a sin,” said Janet deWinter, Classis Toronto, holding back tears.
“I’m truly grieving right now,”said Migael Randall, Classis Central Plains. “This is going to do irreparable harm.”
Following the vote, 20 delegates registered their negative votes, which means that their names will be recorded in the acts of synod as standing against the decision.
Synod president Jose Rayas prayed after the vote. “We pray that the actions we have taken would be actions not to tear apart but to build up and edify your church,” he said.
In related business, Synod decided by a close vote of 89 to 85 (with five abstaining) that it would not initiate a process to add a clarifying footnote to Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 108, which addresses the seventh commandment. The footnote to the word “unchastity” would have clarified that it includes homosexual sex, listed along with adultery, premarital sex, extra-marital sex, polyamory, and pornography.
Various delegates called the proposed footnote unnecessary, unprecedented, and even “ugly.”
Synod 2022 is meeting at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich., from June 10-16. Find daily coverage from The Banner news team at thebanner.org/synod, download the Banner app on your mobile device, or follow The Banner Magazine on Facebook. On Twitter follow #crcsynod or twitter.com/crcna. Synod is the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church (it did not gather in 2020 or 2021). Connect to the meeting’s livestream, read advisory committee reports, and find other resources at crcna.org/synod.